'Panic Room' Director Tapped For 'Mission: Impossible 3'

David Fincher ('Fight Club,' 'Seven') gets shot at Ethan Hunt.

In the next installment of the "Mission: Impossible" series, audiences may leave theaters feeling shellshocked after a two-hour-long immersion in disturbing darkness. They may even see protagonist Ethan Hunt undergo severe psychological trauma — if director David Fincher's "Mission: Impossible 3" is anything like his other movies, that is.

Fincher — the director responsible for the highly charged and unconventional "Fight Club," the bleakly twisted "Seven" and this year's claustrophobic thriller "Panic Room" — has been tapped to helm "M:I3," according to Variety.   

Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Ethan Hunt in "M:I3," and he'll once again serve as co-producer — a role he adopted for both "Mission: Impossible" and "Mission: Impossible 2."

"We've been working on a story [for 'M:I3'], trying to figure it out," Cruise said last year. "I've got to figure it out, because I don't want to do something if it's not going to be something that I'd be proud of. 

"I've never done a sequel except for 'M:I2,' and I always felt that I could do something interesting with it," the hotshot actor added. "I think that will be the challenge. And how do you keep upping the ante and still [keep] it fun and fresh? And not something that [viewers] feel that, 'Oh, we saw that in the last one.' "

Fincher — who helmed the third installment of a film franchise once before with 1992's "Alien 3" — will hopefully answer that question by rescuing the otherwise commendable (and surely bankable) franchise from pitfalls such as the tangled plot line of the first film and the soulless sheen of the second. "M:I3" could conceivably return the series to the team-oriented stories that were a central component of the television show, which was popular during the late '60s and early '70s.

Fincher inherits the "M:I" reins first from Brian De Palma, the man behind the classic Al Pacino vehicle "Scarface" and Kevin Costner's career-defining "The Untouchables." De Palma led Cruise and company through the first "Mission: Impossible," a high-budget and highly confusing reinterpretation released in 1996. Four years later, John Woo — financially successful with action fare such as "Face/Off" and "Broken Arrow" and lauded for his gritty, oft-imitated Hong Kong movies "Hard Boiled" and "The Killer" — teamed with Cruise for the sequel. "M:I2" generated a heavy payload of box-office cash but was panned by critics who said the film relied too heavily on flashy cinematography, elaborate chase scenes and rigorously choreographed fighting, presumably overcompensating for an overall lack of substance.

Fincher's particularly dark slant on moviemaking will likely leave an imprint on the "M:I" series; if anything, his music-world connections will ensure that "M:I3" has a great soundtrack. Fincher has directed memorable video clips for the likes of Madonna ("Express Yourself"), Aerosmith ("Janie's Got a Gun"), the Wallflowers ("6th Avenue Heartache") and A Perfect Circle ("Judith"), and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst said that Fincher is helping him make his own transition from video director to feature filmmaker.