In the beginning of Captain America: Civil War, what looks like a flashback to Stark's younger days turns out to be spiffy hologram technology that I guess can play memories or even alter them. I already understand why the scene is important to Stark's personal character development since it involves his family and backstory.

What I don't understand is how the new hologram technology impacts the plot or story. When I saw the film I immediately figured the holo-tech would end up being used later on for something, like maybe to deceive or mislead some bad guys with optical illusions or something.

What exactly is that hologram stuff, and did that technology show up again in the film's plot?

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    Did Tony say he wanted to use for some kind of mental therapy but it never really worked and that he realized he had spent so much money it that it caused him realize he needed to share the money with other inventors? Something like that.. yeah....
    – Skooba
    May 26 '16 at 19:08
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    I don't see any particular reason to assume that it was intended to be useful to the plot. There's loads of technology in the MCU films that isn't relevant to the plots of the movies. Howard's (almost) flying car in The First Avenger, Tony's robot manservants in his Iron-Cave, etc.
    – Paul L
    May 26 '16 at 19:12
  • @Paul I'm not saying it has to advance the plot. I'm just asking in case it did and I just missed it. :)
    – RedCaio
    May 26 '16 at 19:17
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    @RedCaio then I'd suggest modifying your question to "Did it play a purpose" as opposed to "what purpose did it play".
    – Paul L
    May 26 '16 at 19:20
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    An aside, it might be a spinoff of Hydra technology from Season 1 of Agents of SHIELD - which was repurposed at the end of Season 3, a week or two after Civil War hit theatres.
    – Izkata
    May 27 '16 at 4:34


During the hologram scene we learn that Tony is not only funding advanced technology to help soldiers with PTSD but that he's lavishing money left and right on all sorts of research projects, primarily to try to assuage his guilt over the damage caused by his decision to create Ultron.

Stark: Bi-neurally Augmented Retro-Framing or "BARF". God, I got to work on that acronym. An extremely costly method, of hijacking the hippocampus to clear... traumatic memories. It doesn't change the fact that they never made it to the airport, or the things I did to avoid processing my grief. Plus, 611 million dollars for my little therapeutic experiment. No one in their right mind would ever have funded it.

enter image description here

The film opens with us finding out that Tony is trying to get back onto the side of the angels by sorting out his long-standing mental health problems, putting his "mad scientist" schtick to one side and becoming a better, less emotionally-stunted person by resolving his daddy issues.

Out of universe

The hologram sequence is a simple way to achieve a range of storytelling goals; re-establishing Tony's character, explaining his PTSD (Post-Avengers), guilt issues (Post-Age of Ultron) and long-standing intimacy problems, mostly stemming from his apocalyptically bad relationship with his father (Iron Man I, II, III), all of which goes toward explaining why he's so immediately willing to accept the Sokovia Accords, placing him in opposition to Captain America.

We also need to be reminded who Tony's father is, as a framing device to tying his life history into Bucky/The Winter Soldier's story.

Hologram technology also makes a (brief) return later, projected from Tony's product placement Vivo phone

enter image description here

  • Oh, and the next scene helps to explain where Pepper is (e.g. She dumped him).
    – Valorum
    May 26 '16 at 19:42
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    Or Gweneth wanted too much money.
    – Skooba
    May 26 '16 at 19:57
  • @Skooba - I gather (from reading various interviews) that her character was simply surplus to requirement.
    – Valorum
    May 26 '16 at 19:59
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    It's also a cunning way of showing a key plot point without having to show the year in a title card which would give everything away.
    – Wossname
    May 27 '16 at 5:17
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    @DaniellYancey - There seems to be a qualitative difference between the sorts of schematic holograms we see in IM1 and the sort of immersive photo-realistic holograms we see later.
    – Valorum
    Jul 16 '18 at 15:36

Seeing how the question has changed, the amended answer is: The technology was not relevant in any way. Not all technology used in a movie (even a superhero movie) has to be used later to justify its existence. The scene it portrays is pivotal to the movie and without it would make only half as much sense otherwise.

  • The scene appears to be the first foreshadowing of Tony's relationship with his parents. In a narrative parlance, this scene is operating as Chekov's Gun.

Chekov's Gun: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.

— Anton Chekhov

  • In the hologram, we learn of Tony's relationship with Howard and Maria Stark. Gone is the exuberant young Howard Stark from the Captain America movies and he is instead a reserved, tight-lipped man who can barely connect emotionally with his son and only in a limited way with his wife.

  • Understand, Howard has been working on contingencies to leave technology to his son (see: Iron Man and the palladium park clues) so he does have some level of emotional and scientific interest in his son's growth but for whatever reason did not share this with Young Tony at the time.

enter image description here (plus some extra to get past edit must be 6 characters long)

  • Knowing none of what Howard is planning, Tony is still eager for his father's approval, which is obviously, apparently unrequited. As such, Tony's attachment to his mother is even greater. The scene shows how problematic their relationship was and it is made more tragic knowing their fates later than day.

We are to assume this bit of psychotherapy which he spent vast sums of money on, was meant to help him through the issues of his relationships with his parents and their supposed accidental death.

  • Later, Chekov's Gun is fired when Stark learns

    not only was his parent's death not accidental, but they were murdered to create further supersoldiers by the man being protected by his Avengers comrade, Captain America. The man Cap had convinced Stark was innocent, the Winter Soldier. Suddenly, thanks to the strange happenstance of film in the forest, not so innocent any more.

  • To Stark in this moment: All of his unresolved issues with his father and his pent up emotions around his love of his mother boil forth and drive any attempt at reason from his mind. Note:

    his father is killed and he is angered but it is only when his mother is murdered that he becomes unhinged and unable to be reasoned with.

This initial scene sits quietly waiting until the culmination of the third act of the movie for its emotional payload to be released. It is not only pertinent, it indeed explains and alters the course of the movie toward a negative outcome in the relationship of Captain America and Iron Man.

  • There are two other minor connections. Tony Stark is significantly impacted by the son of the woman he meets near the elevator, and that fuels the Sokovia Accords line. As well, it's connected to the ways he gets to learn about Spider Man (he talks about approving his grant)
    – DariM
    May 26 '16 at 21:02
  • The glasses Tony wears during the first hologram/flashback seem to be related to the tech. He's wearing them again during the fight with the Winter Soldier, so did the holo tech play any part in that scene? (if not, why was he wearing the holotech glasses?)
    – RedCaio
    Jun 1 '16 at 23:05
  • @RedCaio - Those glasses appear to have night-vision capability. Note that they're suddenly tinted red. Because red = night-vision.
    – Valorum
    Jun 1 '16 at 23:20

It's purely so you know what Tony's parents look like.

Aside from any other character backstory/development issues, it's important that the viewer have intimate knowledge of what Stark's father and mother look like -- specifically in the era of 1991. This sets up the "reveal" later in the movie when we watch the video of them being dragged out of the car. It's important that the viewer recognize them on sight, be shocked by the recognition, and not have any chance of being confused or debating who they are as the subsequent events play out.

So the holograph is purely a device to get an up-close view of them in that era (indeed, it simulates the exact same day as the video of their attack). An alternative device would have been some other video that Tony made at the time, but it would feel repetitive to use two videos, and also rather unbelievable that he'd made one that exact day (one that he's never had any habit of viewing in prior movies).

The technology itself was not, in fact, used later in the film.

  • But it could be foreshadowing for INFINITY WAR where Tony uses the technology to trick Thanos into fighting the hologram Avengers while the real Avengers enjoy some shawarma...
    – Tarl
    Feb 10 '18 at 6:08

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