As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.

One of the films that cemented Jim Carrey as the definitive star of the ’90s, The Mask is widely considered to be an action-comedy classic. However, despite being one of the biggest movies of the decade, The Mask still slipped by me, and my first viewing of the film in its entirety took almost three decades to get around to. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that I felt it was important not to judge The Mask by today’s standards.

From The Mask‘s opening scenes, it’s abundantly clear that the film simply wouldn’t exist in the same way were it not for Jim Carrey. From the off, he draws the eye as a sympathetic and hypnotically charming protagonist, even in the role of the perpetual loser Stanley Ipkiss. Carrey’s subtlety is easy to miss among the film’s inherent wackiness, but there’s actually something incredibly impressive in the way he brings the human side of Ipkiss to life. This is done without the frills and the rubber-faced mania most commonly associated with Carrey: there’s a hidden vulnerability he brings to the role that’s easy to miss, but it underpins the entire film.

Cameron Diaz is marginally wasted in her role – though she’s the female lead, she’s mostly there to fill the role of damsel in distress, and there’s very little substance to the lounge singer. This is a shame, because there are flashes of an excellent performance, but Diaz simply can’t shine properly with so little to actually do. Like most of Carrey’s co-stars in most of his movies, Diaz takes a back seat as the leading man works his magic.

The cartoonish visuals of The Mask actually hold up relatively well. Although the film is clearly the product of the ’90s, the set and costume design are as outlandish as the visual effects, making for a relatively seamless (at least, for the era) blend of practical and computer-generated elements. The over-the-top action scenes and the sheer silliness – even of the concept of mortal danger – is inescapable, and though it makes The Mask feel overly juvenile, it’s at least consistent throughout.

One thing that was unexpected was how intelligent The Mask‘s plot is. It’s in small ways that it proves its competence: easy-to-miss elements like Milo fetching Stanley’s keys and Stanley’s love of cartoons all inform The Mask‘s plot in ways that it doesn’t beat the audience over the head with. It’s that subtle world-building that makes The Mask a much deeper and well-written film than one might expect, and it made for a genuinely pleasant surprise.

Ultimately, The Mask was almost exactly what its reputation claimed it was. It’s not an all-time great, but it’s so solidly entertaining and consistently written and paced that it’s nothing less than pure enjoyment. Yes, it’s filled to the brim with ’90s wackiness and Carrey pulling double duty for laughs, but that only serves to better embody the general spirit of the character and the film. Despite its weaker points, there’s an undeniable charm to The Mask that makes it a deeply entertaining experience, and surprisingly, it actually just about lived up to the hype.

Rating: 70%

Summary: Sharp, silly, and every bit as entertaining as advertised, The Mask holds up remarkably well even decades after its release.

Highlights: It was actually the moments where Carrey isn’t spewing nonsense from inside a cloud of dated CGI that The Mask is at its best, allowing its talented leading man to do more than just make funny.